On Monday more than 160 parks advocates gathered at the California State Capital for State Parks Advocacy Day 2009. Spearheaded by the California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) 33 teams from around the state met with nearly 120 Assembly members, State Senators, and their staffs. The advocates discussed the importance of proposed park protection measures, economic stimulus for parks, and the grave impact of the state bond freeze on park projects.
Last year’s proposal by Governor Schwarzenegger to close 48 of the state's 279 parks gave the coalition momentum that has clearly coalesced into a formidable parks movement in California. The threat of these closures compelled the National Trust for Historic Preservation to list the California State Parks System among America's 11 Most Endangered Places in 2008. Fortunately, the Governor took note of the over 30,000 handwritten letters opposing the proposed parks closures, and his revised budget last spring restored nearly all the previously proposed cuts. All the parks remain open and visitation broke records in December, January, and February. Annually 76 million people visit California State Parks.
Brian Turner and Anthony Veerkamp from the National Trust Western Office attended five meetings on Monday and particularly emphasized the importance of the park’s system to preserving California’s history. The State Parks system contains more than 3,100 historic buildings. Many of these buildings are in dire need of basic maintenance and repair.
The economic climate, of course, has not been helpful. Funding for the Department of Parks and Recreation is partly dependant on bonds approved by voter initiative. Last December the State’s Pooled Money Investment Board voted to freeze all state bond spending, which immediately stopped 5,400 projects across the state, 1,200 of which are State Parks related.
The effect of the spending freeze has hit non-profit parks friends groups hard. Many have existing obligations to contractors for conservation and preservation-related projects that were expected to be funded by State bond sales. These groups are stuck footing the bill for the contracted work with no financial guarantees from the State. State Parks Advocacy Day activists pushed their legislators to support Assembly Bill 1364 which will allow state agencies to adjust timelines and grant deliverables for these projects.
The day ended on a hopeful note from State Treasurer Bill Lockyer at the closing reception. Lockyer is the former Attorney General in California and was recognized by CSPF for his critical role representing the People of California against the proponents of a proposed toll road which would have cut through the San Onofre State Beach (the project was successfully stopped last fall). He told the crowd that while advocates were busy at the Capital on Monday, the State sold $3 billion in general obligation bonds. On Tuesday, the total reached $6.54 billion, much more than originally expected. The numbers signal an increasing confidence in the State’s economic recovery and hope for the future of the State Park system.
Brian Turner is Law Fellow in the Western Regional Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation